What Makes a Servant-Leader?

by Shawn McMullen 

The newscaster introduced his opinion segment with a story about an annoying passenger who sat near him on a recent flight.  The passenger snapped his fingers at a flight attendant to order a drink.  He snapped his fingers at another to get a pillow.  He snapped at an assistant to bring his laptop.

The newscaster spoke with indignation.  “No matter how you look at it,” he observed, “snapping at people smacks of pride and superiority.”  He guessed the annoying passenger would never treat the president of his company or the chairman of his board in such a manner and concluded, “People never snap up.  They always snap down.”

The program segued into a commercial break, but my thoughts remained on the snapper.  The more I thought about him, the more he became a picture to me of the human condition.  We may not care to admit it, but the temptation is real.  The more important we think we are, and the more influence we think we have, the less important others appear to us.

The book of Deuteronomy records Moses’ final words to the nation of Israel—a refresher course in the law and a few final instructions.  God knew that one day the Israelites would want a king to rule over them.  And God knew that any man who became king of this great nation would need help keeping his ego in check.  So Moses left these instructions for all of Israel’s future kings:

“When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites.  It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left.  Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).

Each new king was to keep his personal copy of the law on hand at all times, reading it all the days of his life.  This constant exposure to God’s Word would instill in the leader a sense of reverence, obedience, and humility.  It would shield him from the misguided notion that he was better than the people he led.  It would make him more than a leader; it would make him a servant leader.

Servant leaders are a different breed.  Lesser leaders pick and choose those to whom they show respect.  Servant leaders show respect to all people.  Lesser leaders pay attention to those who can help them.  Servant leaders acknowledge all who are around them.  Lesser leaders are enamored with their own projects and accomplishments.  Servant leaders are interested in the projects and accomplishments of others.  Lesser leaders secretly think they’re superior.  Servant leaders know they are not.

Whether or not we lead, God wants every believer to adopt the servant leader mindset.  So let’s keep God’s Word near us.  Let’s read it all the days of our lives.  Let’s cultivate a spirit of reverence and obedience.  Let’s never forget that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

The men who make the best elders are those who stay behind after fellowship dinners to put away the tables and chairs.  A servant’s heart isn’t the sole criteria for leadership in Christ’s church, but it’s a powerful component.

I hope I remember that the next time I’m tempted to get “snap-happy.”

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